WASHINGTON (WAVY) — A Virginia senator serving on the Opening Up America Again Congressional Group said the government will have to provide more coronavirus tests to the public and more personal protective equipment to front line workers before the commonwealth will be able to reopen.
Both areas of the COVID-19 response will have to improve for Virginia to reopen its local governments, schools, and businesses, said Sen. Mark Warner.
“We have to do a better job on our testing and PPE if we want to reopen,” Warner said. “I want the commonwealth to reopen, but it’s got to be done in a way that’s safe and secure.”
Warner added that communities, local governments, and Congress need more clarity — and volume — of COVID-19 tests, and said that Congress has been urging the federal government to create a national testing database to make the situation in the United States clearer.
Warner’s comments to the press came on Tuesday when the Virginia Department of Health reported the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day: 758. Although Virginia has recently increased testing to about 4,000 per day, it ranks among the lowest in the country per capita.
“It’s not a question of money, it’s a question of finding the right supplies for these tests,” Warner said.
Also on the call was Jennifer Boykin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding and vice president of Huntington Ingalls Industries.
NNS has reported 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date. NNS has not reported any new positive COVID-19 cases since April 24.
Boykin said NNS is planning to enforce additional safety measures at the shipyard to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including combining the three workforce shifts into two and implementing temperature checks for employees at the shipyard gates.
Boykin said that NNS does not have any current plans to test shipyard workers on-site; however, a medical officer with the USS George Washington is working to set up an area for COVID-19 antibody testing for U.S. Navy sailors at the shipyard with the hope that that testing will become widely available in Virginia. NNS is helping the effort by providing space and lab capacity. In return, shipyard workers will benefit from the testing if it becomes available.
“I really think that temperature protocol combined with greatly-expanded testing capabilities is the key to getting parts of our operations reopened,” Warner said.
Riverside CEO Bill Downey was also on the press call. He said that the positive news about COVID-19 testing is that results are no longer taking a week or longer to receive — in large part, the turnaround has been reduced to 36 to 48 hours. One challenge still facing the commonwealth is how it will implement widespread COVID-19 antibody testing when that becomes available.
“It might be better to have statewide and regional approaches to antibody testing,” Downey said.
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Warner said that COVID-19 testing and PPE shortages have put into perspective the need to make sure the United States is never dependent on other countries to provide necessary supplies in the event of another national emergency or pandemic.
Warner called the country’s ability to provide its own medicine, disease testing, and PPE without relying on at least part of the materials to come from outside of the country a “national security” issue.